Punk Needs Feminism – an interview with PETROL GIRLS!

11 mins read

Currently recording 10 new tracks for their yet to be named debut record, guitarist/vocalist Ren Aldridge of the raging feminist post hardcore quartet PETROL GIRLS has teamed up with IDIOTEQ to discuss her idea of feminism, its importance for the band, some politics, touring and more! Formed in 2013 for an international women’s day gig, PETROL GIRLS continue to tour regularly around the UK and mainland Europe. Their music combines manic jagged rhythms with vocals that range from furious screaming to intricate melodies and harmonies. Drawing direct influence from REFUSED, BIKINI KILL, WHITE LUNG, FUGAZIRVIVR, PROPAGANDHI, and WAR ON WOMEN, PETROL GIRLS have sculpted a sound and a performance that is not only explosive, but highly detailedandrawkus. They identify explicitly as a feminist band and draw on personal experiences to challenge and ridicule sexism, as well as exploring wider political themes, such as alienation, mental health and the current anti-austerity movement. See the interview below to learn a lot more.

PETROL GIRLS are currently hauled up in S.T.R.E.S.S. Studio, Graz, Austria with producer, Tom Zwanzger, recording 10 tracks for their debut album, yet to be named – Due for a late Autumn release with Bomber Music. “Things are going really well so far” says drummer, Zock. “We’ve recorded drums and guitar live and got seven songs down. We should be able to start tracking bass and vocals by Sunday!”. “We’re really excited to be working with PETROL GIRLS, they are an important new band with something to say” says Donagh O’Leary of Bomber Music. “We’re expecting a great album from them, full of real raw emotion and intelligent anger – things that are sorely lacking in most other bands these days.”. The debut album follows on from ‘Some Thing’ which was released through Bomber Music, Laserlife Records and Panic State in February 2016 and the debut, self-titled EP, released in March 2014.

Hey there guys! Thanks so much for taking some time with IDIOTEQ mag! How are you? How’s London?

Hey, we’re good! It’s just Ren answering this. Thanks for taking an interest in us. London’s alright, but we’re leaving pretty soon – its tough getting by as a musician or artist here! I think quite a lot of musicians and artists are leaving London at the moment.

Given all kinds of controversies around the term, calling yourself a feminist band is overall quite a provocative move. Why was it so important to expose the movement and ideology through a punk rock band? Where did the idea come from? Have you always considered yourself a feminist?

I don’t think its controversial anymore for individuals, especially people involved with punk rock, to call themselves feminists. I see feminism as this big plural idea – feminisms – that loads of people claim in different ways, and its sky-rocketed in popularity lately, which is ace. But I guess it is less common for a band to explicitly describe itself as feminist, and there are a few reasons why we do.

Firstly, the band would not exist without feminism. We began for an International Women’s Day House Show that I was running, possibly the third one I’d put on, at the place I was living, where many of the house shows to begin with were all dudes, reflecting the male dominated scene around us. There is so much to say about this but the main point here is that PETROL GIRLS needed that explicit feminist context to be born in. We had 2 practices, played 2 songs, SUCKED, and it was the best fun! We grew from there. I’d been trying to start a heavy band for so so long, but it was only other women who took me seriously to begin with, Liepa in particular. Defining as feminist also gives us a framework for dealing with difficulties we face, from sexist sound engineers to sexual assault. Consent – the mindblowing idea that everyone involved should agree to sexual activity before it happens – is something we speak about a lot, and that’s because it’s still a massive issue within the music community: groping at shows, harassment, sexual assault, rape. I’ve been sexually assaulted so many bloody times, often by men that don’t even realise or accept their behaviour is out of line. We’ve got a lot of work to do! There is a very real ongoing need for feminism within the punk community and it’s also a great starting point for involvement in other political struggles, which tend to be connected.

There is a very real ongoing need for feminism within the punk community and it’s also a great starting point for involvement in other political struggles, which tend to be connected.


Photo by Stevil Minta.

Have you felt a certain responsibility to participate more and share your views through a band?

Ok, so feminist Goddess and endless source of wisdom Audre Lorde made visible then challenged the idea that “it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.” I remember reading this and realising that it wasn’t actually my responsibility to, for example, teach men who’d sexually assaulted me that their behaviour was out of line. It was a big part of coming to terms with it not being my fault. So I wouldn’t say I feel responsibility, but I definitely have a desire to make sure the hard work I’ve put in to carve a safer space out for myself as a young woman in punk rock isn’t wasted, and that other people can benefit from that. I don’t think my views and opinions are suddenly more valid now that I’m in a band – but people definitely listen to me more now (its taking a lot of getting used to actually!) and I want to use the platform I’ve got right now.
An area where I do feel responsibility however, is taking part in a conversation about how to dismantle the borders that are killing people in increasing numbers and the structures that support them. This is an overwhelmingly big issue and I think many people are paralyzed by the enormity of the current crisis of borders. As someone with a passport, and relative freedom of movement I definitely feel a responsibility to engage with this issue and to try to mobilise this punk community that politicized me as a teenager.

Are your musical aesthetic choices, the edgy rock and punk rock chosen in relation to this feminist line you represent on purpose?

It’s honestly not something I’ve ever considered! But no I think feminism can be expressed in any number of ways. I’ve been into punk since I was about 14, and heard about feminism when I was around 16 but probably only put the two things together in my twenties.. Punk rock is the community I’ve grown up in, and feminism allowed me to make a meaningful space for myself in it.

Who are some other feminist punk bands that you admire?

WAR ON WOMEN are a major one!! We were lucky enough to play a few shows with them last summer, which was rad. Shawna is my favourite person to watch on stage at the moment – totally wild and powerful. LANDVERRAAD are a brilliant dutch anarchafeminist band; BEYOND PINK are just frankly intimidating all women hardcore from Sweden; KORP are another great one from Sweden; our good friend Perkie has to be in there – she plays incredible political piano pop, soundtracks my flippin life. I think BIG JOANIE – black feminist sistah punk – are doing some powerful feminist work; THE TUTS are another one who’ve carved out a strong space for themselves and their gang; oh my shit FRAU are excellent – I’m wearing their tshirt right now, it says ‘Punk is my Boyfriend’ on it. RVIVR!!!! RVIVR!! One day I really hope we get to play with RVIVR, that band means the bloody world to me. Also FIGHT ROSA RIGHT – love playing shows with those women, and they’re doing incredible work on intersectionality in the scene. HOLY SHIT!! My actual current total favourite is SCREAMING TOENAIL, they define themselves as Anti-colonial, Queer, Sassy punk and are fucking incredible live – dancing and thinking and thinking and dancing! I learnt so much from this band. Also G.LO.S.S. – their EP is mindblowing – best track is Outcast Stomp. SUCH. EXCITE.

By the way, how do you see punk rock and the feminist movement intersecting these days and how do you feel this relation has evolved over the years?

I think it’s totally thriving! I’ve experienced really strong feminist and queer music communities in London, Hamburg, Graz, Sheffield, Brighton, and many other towns. I think the resurgence of interest in Riot Grrrl has been really influential, especially with that excellent film about Kathleen Hanna – the Punk Singer – which I cannot recommend enough, I literally left a shit relationship and started booking a tour within hours of watching it – so empowering, I was physically shaking! One weird thing though, is how some people think anything that is punk and feminist is somehow Riot Grrrl, which to me is typical of the way any group that is not straight, white and male gets lumped in the same category. PETROL GIRLS get called Riot Grrrl all the time and we’re just not at all; we’re probably feminist post-hardcore or something. I can be inspired by Riot Grrrl without being part of it.

I do have some concern that feminism, now it’s no longer a dirty word, sometimes gets used as a bit of a buzz word instead. It’s like people, especially men, are more concerned with identifying themselves as feminist or pro-feminist, than making any actual changes or contributing meaningfully to feminist struggle. But then I guess in some ways its better now than a few years ago when people treated you like some kind of crazed extremist if you said you were feminist.. I think there’s a danger of complacency, and of a kind of white middle class dominated ‘feminism’ in the less political, or tamer parts of the music community. I kind of think if you’re not pissing off the dominant people (dude bro’s) then you’re probably not changing anything.. change never really happened from asking nicely. Meaningful change is not comfortable – it’s often quite painful. Personally, I don’t want a tokenistic space in planet dude bro, I want to break planet dude bro so the whole of punk rock is an inclusive space.

Photo by Mark Richards.

What is the masculine reaction to your work? Can you speak about some of the most harsh reactions you get and how you react to it?

I actually get a massive kick out of playing to male dominated and often skeptical audiences, who don’t expect such powerful music to come from unthreatening looking people. Overt sexism is just plain fun for me to deal with on stage. It’s like, dude what are you doing, I have a microphone, don’t fuck with me, I will make you look so small you will physically shrivel. Often other members of the crowd with deal with you: friends of mine destroyed some douche that heckled me to shut up when I was speaking about consent. Off stage however, I’m less confident, and Liepa has been especially great at dealing with sexist sound engineers. For me sexism is much harder to deal with when its subtle, or coming from other women or people who define themselves as feminist. We are all capable of doing and saying sexist things, myself totally included. I often get treated like its fine for me to be loud and powerful on stage where its a performance but off stage I feel pressured to be quieter and to take up as little space as possible. I get called gendered words like “bolshy” and “feisty” when I try to stand up for myself on whatever issue – men just don’t get called things like that and are respected if they are assertive or opinionated. I also get dismissed as “mental” a lot. I think people tend to listen to what men say, whereas with women, they are more interested in how they say it. I think erasure is one of the hardest things to deal with – when people who’ve known you for a long time just stop engaging with the fact you exist because they are uncomfortable with what you are saying or who you’ve slept with or whatever pathetic reason.

Ok, so what do you want your listeners and live gigs attendees to take from your work?

I hope we can help people suffering from mental health problems and people dealing with sexism and other forms of oppression feel less alone. I also hope we provoke conversations and questions – I’m not interested in dictating tired obvious shit, like “capitalism is bad” / “fuck the government” – we get that. I’m interested in creating a more inclusive and politically engaged community where we can talk openly with each other about what we can do collectively against oppressive shit like patriarchy and borders, and actually support each other. I hope we’re like bed bugs and tinnitus in the minds of the dude bro’s who refuse to reflect on their oppressive behaviour.

Will you have plenty of chances to reach out to people through shows this year? What shows do you have planned for 2016?

We’ve got a lovely short, and probably heavily beer fueled, pootle round the mainland with our Austrian buddies ants! coming up dead soon, which I’m very excited about. Then a couple of shows with Despite Everything at the end of May before we take off on an epic three week mish across the mainland and UK with the incredible Joliette from Mexico in June. There are some exciting possibilities coming up over the summer and a personal highlight for me will be Fluff Fest in the Czech Republic – hardcore, swimming and actual politics!! Then we’ll tour pretty extensively in the Autumn to support our album coming out.


Photo by Pay No More Than Photography.

How was your recent UK trek? What is touring like for you guys? What does it mean for you?

I feel like what I’m meant to write here is something like “yeah it was rad, we had a super great time..” but truth is, our recent January tour was tough. It’s a really tough time of year to tour, I was bloody sick, and on top of that, it felt like every town we went to we’d see our friends and they weren’t ok. Shit is bleak at the moment, economically things are so fucking hard, especially for our age group. Friends of friends are committing suicide – I’m so scared of this moving closer. This is a huge conflict in my mind whilst I want to really mobilise against borders. There is so much untapped energy and potential in this music community to really push for political change on this issue, but when everyone’s already so broken its so hard to get things going. I was reading updates on the camp in Calais every day in the van, having friends cry in my arms after shows, the cold and pissing rain didn’t help.. Its all connected. Of course touring isn’t always like that. Its often more of a whirl of dance parties, meeting friends, too much beer, sleeping in weird places, swimming in weird places.. I have to say actually touring outside the UK has always been more fun, and its a lot to do with how much better the quality of life seems to be for our friends in places like Germany for example. Touring has taken on more and more significance for us as it becomes more evident how privileged we are to have this freedom of movement. We have to find a way to use this platform to fight for freedom of movement for everyone.

Ok Ren, thanks so much for youth thoughts. Lastly, what are you working on right now and what can we expect from PETROL GIRLS this year and beyond?

We’re working on our album right now, and the songs are coming out so strong, I’m really excited about it. For me it’s so cathartic to channel all the shit we’re seeing and experiencing at the moment into something; it’s a really instinctive and emotional way of approaching what are essentially political issues. Everyone’s coming up with some brilliant stuff, and I’m getting to throw up all my weird feelings about borders, gender, violence, mental health, not really living anywhere, our bizarre alienated culture, political movements and stuff into these riffy whirlpools – it’s an absolute fucking privilege.


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